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A pivotal experiment to address the impact of livestock on climate change is taking place in our backyard, as a farm in the North Bay gets closer to becoming carbon neutral. 

Scientists and farmers are working together to reduce the harmful gasses cows produce. When cows munch for lunch, the amount of methane emitted – primarily through burps, much less from flatulence – harms the planet as a greenhouse gas.

Scientists say methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Ermias Kebreab, a UC Davis professor, has been leading research on how feed additives like red seaweed can reduce methane emissions from livestock. 

“I see this as a way in which we can drastically reduce methane emissions,” said Kebreab.  

His latest experiment with his team of animal scientists includes adding grape pomace, a byproduct of winemaking, to cow feed.

“We are looking into some feed additives that would get us into 80-to-90% reduction of methane emissions which was unthinkable about 10 years ago,” said Kebreab.  

So far, it’s the red seaweed that’s the most promising.

It contains a compound called bromoform that inhibits the production of methane in cows’ stomachs. The first commercial trial in the U.S. took place in 2021 at the Straus Family Farm near Tomales Bay. 

“This is a continuation of what I’ve been working on all my life,” said Albert Straus.   

Straus is on a lifelong mission to make his farm carbon-neutral, even converting heavy machinery like the farm’s front loader to all-electric.

Results in the UC Davis study on seaweed feed, showed a reduction of methane by up to 82%. That means the organic milk produced at the farm will have less of an impact on the environment.

In the coming months, the farm expects all its dairy cattle to be fed the new seaweed additive when production by Blue Ocean Barns ramps up.

“This dairy will have an equal or lower carbon footprint than any plant-based dairy alternative by the end of this year,” said Straus.  

Using a machine built to mimic what happens in a cow’s stomach, Kebreab and animal science researchers in the lab continue to study what else could be used in the fight against climate change including other additives like almond hulls and more. 

“There’s no better feeling than to see all this work being done and being implemented in the real world and in scenarios around the world,” said Kebreab.  

It’s one move, in the right direction, to strive for what can be done, to reverse the impact of mankind on Mother Nature. 

Researchers at UC Davis are also working on trials at a ranch in Montana studying methane emissions from beef cattle. 

Straus Creamery hopes to have all 11 of its milk suppliers feed their cattle the seaweed diet and be carbon neutral by the end of the decade. 

Source : CBS news April 20th 2023 by Kenny Choi

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